Thursday, September 5, 2013

The USS Constitution at PNSY

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY), also known as the Portsmouth Navy Yard, is located on Seavey’s Island in Kittery, Maine.

The USS Constitution, dubbed Old Ironsides because of her strong construction, is a 44-gun heavy frigate built in Boston and launched on October 21, 1797. 
USS Constitution, circa 1920

The history of the renowned warship is well known, especially for the defeat of five British warships during the War of 1812. Although the unlikely victories had little impact on the war’s outcome, they boosted American morale at a time when losses on land had hindered the war effort.

Less well-known is that the aging and obsolete warship spent a number of years parked at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The first visit began on June 14, 1855, when the Navy decommissioned Old Ironsides at PNSY. She remained on the Piscataqua River for the next five years.
USS Constitution in Dry Dock at PNSY, 1857

In 1857, the Navy moved the old frigate into dry dock and converted her into a training ship. Now with only sixteen guns, she was recommissioned in 1860 and sailed to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where she was used to train Union sailors during the Civil War.

Old Ironsides was retired from active service once more in 1881 and towed back to the Piscataqua River.

USS Constitution at PNSY, circa 1900
The training ship entered PNSY's dry dock again, this time to be converted into a receiving ship – a floating dormitory for Navy personnel. During this Seacoast visit, the Constitution stayed at the Portsmouth Navy Yard for fifteen years, from 1881-1897. During her long stay, she looked more like a floating hotel than a proud warship.

The future national treasure remained at Portsmouth Navy Yard until after the Revolutionary War’s centennial celebration. As national pride swept the country and the legendary warship’s hundred-year birthday approached, the Navy towed the Constitution back to Boston in September 1897.

Restoration back to a warship began in 1925 and completed in 1930 after a massive effort to save her. Commissioned again on July 1, 1931, the lofty USS Constitution returned to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard one last time on July 3-12, 1931, as her first stop on a three-year grand tour of ninety port cities before returning to her permanent home in Boston.

The above photographs are courtesy of the United States Navy. Below is a vintage photograph of Old Ironsides taken from the Portsmouth shore. This picture of the Constitution, configured as a floating barracks, appeared in C. S. Gurney's 1902 book, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque. Below that is a recent photo I snapped of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle sailing past the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on August 2, 2013.

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